The MAD situation is no longer there

MOSCOW. (Alexander Khramchikhin for RIA Novosti) - On May 26, 1972, U.S. President Richard Nixon and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev signed the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty, or SALT, the first bilateral agreement of its kind.

It included an interim agreement on certain measures with respect to the limitation of strategic offensive arms. The two leaders also signed the ABM Treaty. The former treaty sealed the alignment of forces in ground-based and sea-launched ballistic missiles, while in the latter the sides voluntarily renounced development of defense against these missiles.

In a way, SALT-1 was brought into being by the Vietnam War. Before it, the United States had an overwhelming albeit decreasing superiority over the Soviet Union in strategic nuclear weapons. But the adventure in South-East Asia depleted America of its strength. The Pentagon budget was blown out of all proportion. The bulk of the money went into conventional arms. They were sent to Vietnam and quickly perished in anti-Vietcong battles (the U.S. lost 8,600 aircraft and helicopters in eight and a half years).

The Soviet investment into Vietcong paled into insignificance when compared to what the United States was spending on its troops in Vietnam and its Vietnamese allies. But nonetheless Moscow inflicted a heavy defeat on Washington. At the same time, the Soviet Union made a breakthrough in strategic nuclear arms and caught up with America, which had to neglect them because of heavy Vietnamese spending. This country successfully tested its first anti-ballistic missile in 1961 - 23 years before America did.

When SALT-1 was signed, the United States was still fighting in Vietnam. The war was escalating domestic tensions. America could not afford to restore its strategic arms superiority. This is why despite resistance from the conservatives and some MIC (military-industrial complex) representatives, the U.S. leadership decided it was good enough to seal the parity.

Renunciation of nationwide ABM systems (two ABM-protected regions were allowed, and later reduced to one) was more important than offensive arms limitations. Lack of self-defense was supposed to curb a desire to attack - this was a situation of mutual assured destruction (MAD). The ABM Treaty had a pragmatic side. Developing effective anti-ballistic weapons was much more difficult and expensive than missiles. Besides, each side could break through enemy ABM at a much smaller cost. Thus, the treaty provided an excuse to renounce exorbitant spending with very dubious results. The United States did not even go for the allowed ABM area unlike the Soviet Union, which protected Moscow against a ballistic missile attack.

During the past 35 years, the sides signed SALT-2, START-1, START-2, and finally the Strategic Potentials Treaty. For brevity's sake, they cannot be described in a short article.

Eventually, the United States walked out on the ABM Treaty when it no longer suited it.

Today, the United States is again waging a war that is likely to cost it more than the Vietnam War both financially and politically. The Pentagon budget has reached skyrocketing heights once again. As before, there is no time or money for strategic arms, but America is developing a militarily bizarre ABM system.

As during the Vietnam War, Russia can exploit America's problems but has not done this so far. The U.S. strategic nuclear force has remained unchanged for the past 15 years with a few insignificant exceptions (withdrawal of MX missiles and a portion of B-52 bombers, and replacement of ballistic weapons with cruise missiles on four Ohio nuclear submarines). Russia is reducing its strategic nuclear weapons quickly. Interestingly, in the moneyless 1990s Moscow managed to maintain its strategic nuclear potential almost at the same level as it was immediately after the Soviet Union's disintegration; in the 21st century strategic arms are rapidly dwindling even despite a sharp growth in defense expenditures.

Unlike the United States, which has not acquired new strategic carriers for a long time, Russia has been building its mobile, and since the late 1990s, silo-based Topol ICBMs. However, the problem is that the Topol missile has only one warhead, whereas the old Soviet models carried from six to 10 warheads, but they are now being decommissioned as their service life expires. This means that the number of warheads on sea- and ground-based missiles has been halved in 2000-2007. Russia is trying to upgrade the sea leg of its strategic nuclear arsenal, but the new Bulava SLBM has not passed a single successful test.

Substantial cuts in offensive arms are creating an entirely new military-strategic situation not only in Russian-U.S. relations but also in the world as a whole.

First, with fewer strategic carriers and warheads, the ABM system may prove effective. The current ABM systems - either Russian, or even less so, the half-virtual American - are incapable of parrying a massive nuclear strike. In fact, there is no sense in trying to do this. But a tangible reduction in the number of potential targets may prompt some people to think that the game is worth the candle. One can invest in the development of a really effective ABM system and first-strike weapons, for example, in conventional high-accuracy systems. The final goal is to create a capability for a disarming first strike (nuclear, non-nuclear or mixed) at the enemy's strategic nuclear potential. ABM will finish off whatever survives the first blow.

To sum up, reduction of offensive arms, lack of restrictions on defensive weapons and rapid development of non-nuclear high accuracy systems may destabilize the world situation.

Second, 35 years ago, either the Soviet or the American potential were many times bigger than the British, French and Chinese nuclear arsenals put together. Now the situation has changed. More countries have nuclear weapons, whereas both Russia and the United States now have fewer carriers and warheads than before. Moreover, only these two countries are bound by a treaty on medium and shorter-range missiles. This makes further bilateral treaties pointless.

Any new nuclear arms reduction agreements should cover all nuclear countries, including unofficial members of the club (Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea). This is a much bigger problem for Russia than for the United States. All other nuclear countries are in Eurasia and the bulk of nuclear weapons are targeted at Russia. China, for instance, has a few ICBMs that can reach America, but many more medium-range missiles that are aimed at Russia and India (maybe, this is how the Moscow-Delhi-Beijing triangle manifests itself).

Today, mutual security requires an entirely new approach but nobody is likely to adopt it. Moreover, the bad situation is getting worse. Having become the world's only leader in the early 1990s, the United States has uprooted a system of international law, thereby inflicting heavy damage on itself. We are watching the demise of the unipolar world. It is not becoming multipolar and is only breeding chaos.

Russia does not have a clear-cut foreign policy concept and is clinging to the old Soviet line in a completely different geopolitical situation. None of the other countries are ready to play first fiddle in world affairs. Under the circumstances, many countries may be tempted to take part in the new race for nuclear missiles and other weapons.

Alexander Khramchikhin heads the analytical department at the Institute of Political and Military Analysis.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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